Today's Guest Column
Today's Guest Column

Dear university President Wallace Loh,

The American Studies Association, the Association for Asian American Studies and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association have all declared their support for the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli academic institutions. These are tremendous victories for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israeli apartheid and the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. The members of these associations have shown their integrity and courage by calling out Israel’s human rights violations against the Palestinian people, including Israel’s chronic restriction of academic freedom imposed upon Palestinian students and academics.

Israel’s restrictions on Palestinians’ academic freedom include harsh limitations on movement into and out of the Gaza Strip, which prevents tens of thousands of Palestinian students and academics from attending universities and conferences in the West Bank or abroad; the bombings of universities and elementary schools in Gaza; aggressive raids on students and faculty of universities in the West Bank; severe restrictions of movement within the West Bank caused by checkpoints, roadblocks and the illegal segregation wall; and discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel.

That discrimination came through inequitable school funding, preferentially providing financial aid to Jewish students over non-Jewish students, denial of free speech and racist renting practices toward Palestinian students and a notable lack of Arab scholars in Israel’s state-funded institutions of higher education (of which only 2 percent of senior staff members are Arab). The list continues.

It must be clear that the boycott is of institutions, not individuals. Israeli scholars have every right to research as they wish, but under the boycott they may not officially represent their universities or use their research to maintain the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people.

The ASA, AAAS and NAISA did not vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions because of the “national identity” of Israeli scholars but because those institutions are complicit in equipping the Israeli state with the technology and false narratives necessary to sustain Israel’s ongoing violence against Palestinians. For example, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology works closely with Israeli arms companies to produce surveillance equipment, drones and missiles used by the Israeli military in the West Bank and Gaza.

In the words of the NAISA: “We strongly protest the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and the legal structures of the Israeli state that systematically discriminate against Palestinians and other Indigenous peoples.”

And again, in the words of the ASA: “The [boycott] resolution is in solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians. The ASA’s endorsement of the academic boycott emerges from the context of US military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and finally, the support of such a resolution by a majority of ASA members.”

Academic freedom is not infringed upon by the boycott — it is demanded.

Therefore, we call upon President Loh, Provost Mary Ann Rankin and the united university community to stand in solidarity with the members of the ASA, AAAS and NAISA in calling for the academic freedom of all people regardless of race, religion or ethnicity and to hold Israeli universities accountable for their role in supporting the occupation and oppression of Palestine.

Signed,

Students for Justice in Palestine, University of Maryland;

Political Latinos/as United for Movement and Action in Society;

Black Male Initiative;

Organization of Arab Students;

International Socialist Organization, University of Maryland

Shane James is a freshman history and secondary education major. He can be reached at shane.t.james@gmail.com.